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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

is my wife's boss coming on to her?

A reader writes:

I'm writing this for my wife, who has an interesting situation at work. Since it's the holidays, I figured that there may be other employees going through this same situation with their bosses. So here goes...

My wife was assigned a new manager 2 months ago during an office reorganization. Since it was the holidays, and is normal practice at her office, she gave both her old manager and new manager a small holiday gift ($10 gift cards). The old manager accepted kindly, as did her new manager. However, her new manager felt the need to extend an offer to her for a "belated" holiday gift of going out to lunch one day - just the two of them - we're assuming in response to the gesture.

Although the intent seems genuine (he's also married), and nothing to the contrary has been seen by my wife or the manager's prior employees, it has put her in an awkward situation - as her boss is male, and she female. The questions abound... what is the intent of lunch - just lunch or something else? Again, nothing prior has indicated otherwise. What will his other employees think - will she be outcast for being the boss' favorite? Will the other employees think something else is going on between them? Is she overanalyzing the situation?

Even if there is no ill-intent my wife has been struggling to figure out how to handle the situation professionally, and as not to damage an employee / manager relationship that's just beginning. It doesn't appear that a one-on-one lunch is a precedent in her office, although group lunches between managers and employees occur often.


Men and women who work together can't go out to lunch during the work day with each other?

I would like to think that I could take a male employee to lunch without someone reading more into it. Bosses take employees to lunch all the time, as a thank-you for a great performance, as a chance to discuss career goals in a more relaxed setting, or just because they feel like getting some food. Often just because they feel like getting some food.

You say there's been no indication of anything improper. That's all you, or anyone else, needs to know.

I have to wonder: Since you're the one writing in rather than your wife, is it possible that you're the only one who sees something suspicious here? If I'm right ... dude, stop harassing your wife and let her have a normal relationship with her boss.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I hate talking on the phone

I hate talking on the phone.

When I was a teenager, I lived my entire life on the phone. I even worked a part-time job just to get money to pay for my own phone line, so that I could talk on it as long as I wanted without anyone kicking me off. I was a master of all forms of phone activity, including three-hour time-killers in which we covered nothing of substance, the non-emergency (except in gossip terms) emergency break-through, and some really exceptional prank calls.

Somewhere along the way, though, the phone and I had a break-up. Probably because I developed a raging hot love for email, which suits me on far more levels: I can talk to you whenever I feel like it, even at 2 a.m. I can answer you when it's most convenient, or after I've pondered my answer for a while, or during the commercial break from Law & Order. And I can talk to you without you knowing that I have a mouth stuffed full of tacos.

In a work context, I'm even more pro-email and anti-phone. Lots of conversations that would take five minutes in person take 30 seconds in email. If you email me instead of calling me, I can concentrate on other things without interruption and answer you when I'm at a good stopping point. I can write you back after hours, when I finally have time to focus on what you're saying.

Obviously, email isn't good for every situation. There are times when email is less efficient than talking by phone or in person, or where the situation simply requires a real conversation. (And god knows that I learn things in phone interviews that I wouldn't have realized from email, like that the candidate is crazy ... or, alternately, spectacular.)

But I have to think that in 10 years, we're going to be using the phone even less than we are right now. And I will not be sorry to see it go.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

why do employers re-advertise jobs after interviews?

A reader writes:

Is it normal for employers advertise again a position after the second round of interviews?

I've encountered this situation a few times and the first thing I imagine is that none of the candidates met their expectations, but they still want to keep these people as second or third options.

What is your opinion about this behavior? Do you think employers should be clearer about the process and tell job-seekers what is going on?

I wouldn't read too much into this, although it's tempting to. It could be a few different things:

* Sometimes the employer may have one or two strong candidates but be nervous about not having a wider pool. After all, if I only have one person I'm excited to hire, I'm screwed if that person turns down my offer or we can't come to terms for some other reason. So I'd always rather have a handful of strong candidates, which could mean that I continue advertising even as I'm moving through the process with that one star.

* Some companies keep fresh ads up until the position is officially filled.

* Sometimes an ad is self-renewing, because the employer purchased a certain number to run. So the ad "reappears" but not through any action of the employer.

* Or yes, sometimes new ads may indicate that the employer isn't thrilled with any of the candidates it currently has and wants to explore alternatives.

Because there's such a wide variety of possible explanations, you'll only drive yourself crazy trying to interpret those new ads. Instead, I'd recommend just asking the employer straighforwardly for their timeline -- what are their next steps, and when should you expect to hear back. After all, those are the answers that really matter.

do managers this bad really exist?

A reader writes:

I've enjoyed reading your blog the last few months. I am however left wondering - where do these people work? After reading about the interactions your readers have with their leaders, I am stunned. Am I this sheltered? Do managers this clueless and/or evil really exist?

They do exist.

I don't believe any of the managers I've written about here are evil. They are, however, often incompetent, weak, or clueless.

They're also what inspired me to pursue the career path I ended up pursuing.

If you haven't encountered them, count yourself very lucky.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

will being on reality TV hurt my job prospects?

A reader writes:

Do you think that being on a reality TV show would adversely affect my ability to get a job? I am not currently slated to be on one, but if I were to do this, I wonder what the ramifications on my future job prospects might be. I'm talking about a Survivor-type show, nothing like sexy, island orgy stuff.

As a major fan of a slew of reality TV shows, especially bad ones, this question is like a Christmas present to me, so thank you.

First, may I say that I love your confidence? You are not slated to be on TV currently, but feel that there's a decent chance you could make it happen. And that is awesome.

Okay, so let's look at best case and worst case scenarios.

Best case, you're on a respectable show and conduct yourself in a respectable manner. You don't freak out on other contestants, you don't become known as the a-hole of the cast, and the show itself isn't about drunken antics or sexcapades. In this scenario, nothing negative attaches to your reputation, but you acquire a persona that may or may not accurately reflect who you are. So prospective employers -- at least those who may know you from the show -- feel like they know things about you, and those things may not be (a) accurate, (b) relevant, or (c) any of their business. You come with baggage, which could be good or bad -- maybe they like the idea of hiring the guy from that show and think it's a cool novelty perk, or maybe they'd feel cheesy hiring that guy.

Worst case, you implode in some spectacular way, or are edited to appear like a jerk, or end up on a show that develops some notoriety. (For instance, did those "Jersey Shore" people realize what they were getting into?) Then you've got all of the factors from the previous paragraph, but with a particularly negative spin on them.

You also have to remember about unintended consequences. The show could be totally respectable, your behavior could be impeccable, and you could still end up associated with something negative through something you didn't anticipate -- some unforeseen action of your castmates, or, hell, even just the fact that if any of us were filmed 24/7 we'd be highly likely to say or do something unfit for public consumption. (Oooh, that reminds me! I once knew someone who went on the WB's "Blind Date," accidentally behaved like a douche, and nearly lost his job over it.)

That said, I suspect there are always people who will hire someone specifically because they've been on TV. So it depends on who you want to work for.

On the other hand, if you're on a show designed to showcase your professional talent, like Top Chef, none of these rules apply.

If anyone wants to work other things I like into a question, you are pretty much guaranteed a fast reply.

where are they now: update #12 - when the boss owes you money

Remember the reader who was promised a stipend when she was interviewing for her internship, but never got the money she was promised? She wrote in asking how to ask her boss for the money she was owed.

Here's her update:

I took your advice and went to my manager and asked directly for the money. He (the EVP of the dept / Interim President) suggested we go back to the contract I had signed at the start of the internship, and when it turned out the transportation money wasn't included in the contract, he said that he couldn't pay the money. Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated - partly with myself for not insisting that the money be included in that contract, and partly with him for not relenting, when it seemed like such a small thing.

The good news is that the next week - the second week of August - I interviewed for two full time positions at two other environmental nonprofits, and happily received two offers! I started my new job the last week of August, and am thrilled with both the work and the organization.

I also recently found out that the organization where I interned has been going through some severe financial stress - they laid off another 10 or 15% of the staff of 20 people, including one of the SVPs, and are now renting out half of the office that serves as headquarters. Having heard that I have a hard time holding that $250 against my former manager.

Thanks again for your help - even though it didn't turn out how I wanted, it felt good to stand up for myself a little!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the weirdest interview question ever?

This amazing story comes from one of the commenters on my U.S. News & World report post earlier this week about how to handle inappropriate interview questions.

Linda R. wrote:

When I was just out of college (ahem...the early 80's, a less enlightened age), a friend went on an interview for an administrative position. She felt the interview was going very well. Then, the interviewer asked, "Can I look in your purse?"

In response to her shocked expression, he explained that he finds that to be the best indicator of how organized a woman is. She lost her composure for a minute, she was taken so by surprise, but wound up handing it over. He fingered through it, muttered something, thanked her and handed it back. She didn't wind up getting the job -- not due to a messy purse she was sure, since she had just cleaned it out. Nothing I've ever heard since then has struck me as a weirder question than that one.

Several reactions:

1. This would really annoy me. To the point that I might not take a job working for him.

2. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their purse contents.

3. Most importantly, I wonder what he asks men.

where are they now: update #11 - ethics of taking an internship on top of a job

Remember the woman who wondered if it was ethical to take an internship on top of her full-time job without telling her manager? She was worried that they'd assume she was thinking about leaving and would frown on it.

Here's her update (and why are almost all of these from women?):

I wrote back in September asking about leaving 15 minutes early from work for an internship. You advised me to speak frankly to my manager about my need to leave and accept the decision she made.

I ended up communicating some more with the small company that offered me the intern position. By offering to do some work from home over the weekends, I was able to swing a later start date, so I don't have to leave the office early in order to make my internship.

However---I still haven't spoken to my manager very explicitly about my internship, because although I initially assumed that they weren't expecting me to stay on as an admin forever, I soon found out that, aside from myself, everyone has been working in their current positions for almost (or over) 20 years, and that my predecessor had my job for 10 years. The amount of discussion about my (now retired) predecessor has made me nervous to share that I'm exploring different industries, so my manager only knows about my internship in the vaguest sense. I'm not sure if that's the best course of action or if I should discuss it with her more fully, but at the moment my internship is not interfering with my work at all, so it hasn't come up.

I'm working 50 hour weeks with the extra time at the internship, but I am learning a lot. Thanks so much for your advice, and the advice of the commenters.

where are they now: update #10 - when an employee won't take a hint

Remember the woman wondering how to get one of her employees to tone down his inappropriate and unwarranted bragging?

Here's her update:

The sales rep who was doing this learned his lesson the hard way... Unfortunately, sometimes this is the only way people learn a lesson.

He bragged about a big account he landed to anyone who would listen. The thing is that he bragged before he actually landed it. Now when people ask him about this epic account he allegedly landed, he hangs his head low and has to explain that, while he did get some business, he did not get nearly all that he thought he would.

One of the best things about this "green" rep is that he actually does learn from his mistakes - that is what will mold him into a very solid rep who doesn't make silly errors in judgment.

where are they now: update #9 - hiding internal interview from current manager

Remember the reader who didn't want her current manager to learn that she was interviewing internally for another position?

Here's her update:

The supervisor never found out about my internal applications, but it took a while before I could work with those particular departments again after they didn't hire me. They were pretty thick with how qualified I was and how happy I would be in the job, but then I didn't get the job! I eventually found out that they did not want to hire me away from our overall director. AND I found out that others across the organization (on a campus) felt the same way and I wasn't getting interviewed for that reason.

I ended up taking a different job in August 2009 with an entirely different part of campus and I've been told that I am now welcome to reapply for positions that earlier I was not invited to apply for. It makes me really upset that my director had this type of power over others not even affiliated with our unit and has led me to question the ethics of the institution. Of course, since I've been in this job I tried to interview/apply for another internal position, my supervisor found out, and I had a greatly awkward conversation. She now brings it up every chance she gets, questioning my loyalty, and I am now left looking for another position more discreetly.

Monday, December 21, 2009

where are they now: update #8 - the coworker who accidentally complained to the wrong person

Remember the woman whose coworker called her accidentally, thinking she was calling someone else, and proceeded to complain about her, before realizing she was talking to the person she was complaining about?

Here's her update:

I had planned to discuss the "awkward moment" with my co-worker, but several things prevented that from happening. One of those was that she was called home from work because her child was ill. She was gone for the remaining three days that week, and then we were off for the weekend.

When I arrived at the office on Monday morning, we were the only two people in the building. I immediately asked how her child was feeling. She provided me with all the details and seemed genuinely touched that I asked.

Since that time, she has shared some personal information with me about her background, which gave me much insight into some of her behaviors. It turns out she has had a difficult life. She is a single mom, and I have compassion for her. Her attitude towards me has turned around by 180 degrees.

I must tell you that I was praying about the situation, as I truly want to have a good working relationship with her, as I do with all of my co-workers. I have no other explanation!

Thank you again for your help and your advice.

how to handle inappropriate interview questions

I'm interrupting the flow of "where are they now updates" to bring you my latest column over at U.S. News & World Report, which answers this questions from a reader:

I had an interview for a job today. It's my first interview in 14 years as I've been in my present job that long. I was feeling a little rusty. I researched interview questions, practiced answers, and felt well prepared. Then out of nowhere I was asked, "Tell me about your children."

Immediately I wondered: How is this relevant? How can I tie this in with my skills and abilities? Are they wondering if I'll need to take a lot of time off? How did they know I have children? Is this a trick question? It's the only question I stumbled on and I feel like I didn't answer properly. I told their ages and briefly described each of them and assured the interviewer that being a mother wouldn't take away from my abilities on the job. I said, "um, uh, er" a little too much. What should I have said?

Read my answer here.

where are they now: update #7 - the misbehaving ex-boyfriend coworker

Remember the letter from the woman who noticed that her coworker -- who was also her ex-boyfriend -- was posting really inappropriate stuff online, like revealing photos of himself, stories of his sexual exploits, and negative commentary on their employer? She worked in HR and so was wondering whether or not to mention it to anyone.

Here's her update:

Well, he acted too big for his boots, and got booted out for leaking confidential product information, which he heard from another department, to a friend of his to blog. Booting him out was used as an example in our company on how not to be an asshole in using social media.

Then he posted his firing letter online in his blog ( as a means to get sympathy - hahaha - for him) - and some of the companies where he was interviewing saw the blog post and rescinded the offer. He went back to his old blogging job, and is still around in our small technology town, but no longer the toast of parties or events.

Lessons learned from here? Be really nice on social media. Do not be racist, sexist or homophobic. And just because you blog, you are not the smartest person in the world.

And on the dating side : I did check with some trusted seniors on this one. As long as the two people are not in a position to influence each others performance reviews etc, it is all fine. Two of my colleagues recently got married and it was good to be there to wish them well.

Personally, I have diversified my dating pool mostly outside of my company and am very much single and enjoying the singledom.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

where are they now: update #6 - the boss who went AWOL during layoffs

Remember the reader who was laid off by someone who wasn't her boss, and her boss told her that she'd talk to her about it but then never got in touch?

Here's her update:

I did reach out to my manager, thanking her for the opportunity at my company and asking if I could use her as a reference. She wrote me back claiming that she'd emailed me the day of my layoff but must have gotten the email address wrong (suspect) but that of course I could use her as a reference and she thanked me for all my work.

During the final stages of my job hunt that led me to my current position (I was unemployed exactly two months), a former co-worker reached out to me advising me not to use my manager as a reference and to trust that she knew what she was talking about. Since I felt skeptical at best about using my former boss, I took her word and was able to use my former co-worker and sales director instead. I've now been gainfully employed for almost a year and am much happier at my new position.

Also, I direct all my job seeking friends to your site. I check it religiously and would like to think I am a better employee and job seeker as a result. Thanks for all you do!

where are they now: update #5 - the office selection challenge

Remember the person wondering if she should choose the office nearer to her boss or nearer to all her colleagues?

Here's her update:

I’m the one who wrote about choosing an office by my friends or in the nicer area closer to my boss. In the end, I indicated the office I wanted was at the end of the “boss’s” row, and that was agreed upon.

Then I went on vacation.

A co-worker who has significantly less seniority than I, but who is one grade higher, although we both report to the same boss, decided she wanted my office instead of the one she had originally agreed to, next to mine. I think it ended up being minutely smaller than mine, and she is so hung up on status that it made a difference to her. Because I was monitoring my emails on vacation I spotted this right away, and mentioned it to the boss. She said she’d take care of it.

To make a long story short, she strung me along for two months, and when I confronted her about her reneging on the agreement, and the fact that I was there longer, she said the other worker had been really upset so she had to let her keep the office, and would I mind taking the other one. I asked her if I was being punished for something, or if I had done something wrong, and stated that this was a clear indication that the other person was worthy of more consideration than myself, and that thanks, no, I don’t take sloppy seconds and that I would take the other office I had originally been considering. I also told her that I resented that she strung me along, but that I had already wasted enough time being upset, and from that point onwards I would not discuss the situation again and continue to work in a professional manner.

I feel disrespected by my boss, and by my co-worker who knew that office was supposed to be mine but who threw her temper tantrum until she got it.

But, in my job I have great freedom to come and go, with a very flexible work schedule which is far more important to me than office placement. So I have chosen to stay. And I’m closer to the lunch room.

where are they now: update #4 - the interrupting coworker

Remember the person irritated by her coworker who constantly interrupted any conversation she was having with their boss?

Here's her update:

In April I sent a question about a coworker who would butt in and take over any conversation I was having with our supervisor. You were very soothing; you assured me I was not being childish for being irritated and suggested I address it head-on. I did try the nice-but-firm “Thank you, but I really need Fred’s take on this” and it worked somewhat.

What worked even better was bringing a chair over to Fred’s cubicle. Then we could murmur about timesheets to our hearts’ content. In order for my coworker to join, he’d have to get up from his desk, walk over, figure out what we’re talking about, and launch a 10-minute monologue. Which he still did sometimes, but it slowed him down.

But he’s still pretty much a doofus. Oh well.

Thank you!

where are they now: update #3 - the one-month profitless job

Remember the reader who asked whether she should take a job that was one-month, 35 miles away, and wouldn't pay her enough to do more than break even?

She writes in with this update:

Let's see, you gave me great advice about not taking a job that was far away, seasonal, and a significant step down in pay- I ended up not taking it and staying unemployed and had some really fantastic interviews that went really well, but unfortunately never got the job. Had I taken that job, I would have missed out on some really great interviews and practice, so even though I never got the job I'm happy I have the experiences I went through.

I was however, offered a really fantastic foot-in-the-door position at Neiman Marcus in their visual department but it was only very part-time and too far away to commute to. I did ask the woman who interviewed me to keep me posted on other openings as I really liked her and would love for her to mentor me. She was actually excited about the feedback I gave her on her interviewing (which was fantastic, by the way) and was totally open to staying in touch.

I'm still unemployed at the moment but am volunteering at an animal shelter walking the dogs; its a great release for me to not have to think about paying bills and such, and it also benefits a great organization at the same time. Win/ Win!

Friday, December 18, 2009

where are they now: update #2, featuring sleeping bunks in the office

Remember this woman?

She had the boss who yelled so much that he had to keep the radio on at all times to cover the noise. We all told her to get the hell out ... which she did. Here's her update:

I emailed you a little over a year ago (see entry under "jerks" for September 2008) about my verbally abusive boss at a small creative agency. Well - I hung in there until I couldn't stand it any longer and found something else and gave my notice two days before the Thanksgiving break in 2008. I honestly don't think I have ever had such a tirade unleashed against me as when I gave my notice. He badgered me over and over about how I had misconstrued his yelling and that he was just passionate about his work. It then turned into a horrible set of personal attacks and threats of lawsuits if I ever contacted anyone from the agency again - he even demanded that I remove the agency's name from my LinkedIn profile as he perceived it to be some sort of legal infringement for me to even say I had ever worked there.

Long story short - instead of the two weeks I intended to give, I left at the end of the following day. This was not before he got the whole company together (about 20 people) in the conference room to talk about how little I had added to their process and how they would be going on and probably doing better now that I was gone. Two more people gave their notices by the end of that day because he was such a tyrant about the whole thing.

Unfortunately the job I left for was somewhat out of the frying pan and into the fire. I left for a publicly traded, much larger creative agency as a director and was really excited to get to hopefully work with some decent folks again. On day one - I got a taste of how things really were - they "forgot" to mention that I was expected to keep a set of clothes at work for all of the all-nighters and then showed me the sleeping bunks they had built along with a shower so folks could live at work.

I was given accounts in both LA and NY (despite having been told there would be no travel), so I worked from 5am til 8 or 9pm and was routinely called out in executive meetings for not taking one for the team (all the rest of whom where single and without kids unlike me) and staying on with them all night. The final straw was when the company did not protect me from a mid-level manager who obviously had mental issues and that I had a strong hand in her getting fired because of client complaints. She slashed my tires, broke into the office and stole a laptop, and then called my multi-million dollar client and aired all of the company's dirty laundry. When they left her go, I was told to leave the office and stay at a nearby cafe because they were worried that she would become physically violent - never mind that I had to buy my own coffee. In the end, even though the worst did not take place, I had to endure numerous phone calls from her at all hours and slanderings on facebook.

After 10 months, I have since left that agency as well and have vowed to never work in an agency again. I am currently relocating and am looking for a nice, "normal" quiet job after taking 6 months off to recuperate.

where are they now: update #1 - the new HR rep with no help

Thanks to all who are answering the call for updates, to let us know how their situation turned out. If you haven't written in yet, we want to hear from you!

Here's the first one.

Remember this guy, back in August?

He was the new HR assistant who was frustrated because no more experience HR staffer was around to give him guidance.

Here's his update:

My dilemma was that I accepted a position as an HR Assistant for a small local company and only came to find out after the first week that the position was not just HR Assistant. My position is pretty much the whole HR department. I have no HR manager to report to except the owner. I have to pretty much learn as I go and do everything by trial and error. I wrote to you then asking if I should leave and you and others answered that it’s a golden opportunity and that I should stay.

Well, ready for the update? (drum roll...) I am still at the company. When I wrote to you, I was just at the company for 2 months. Also, I was still going to school to complete my MBA in Human Resource Management. In other words, I was feeling pretty nervous knowing that I have no HR manager to receive input from. Now it has been a year, I have completed my MBA and I am still at the company.

I’m glad that I took the advice. Since my post to you, I have switched my perspective and view this as an opportunity like you and others have suggested. I have learned a lot about HR. Although the road was not always smooth, I’ve learned how to handle it on my own. I feel more confident about the work that I do now.

But unfortunately, while this is a great opportunity, I have never been more sure that this company is not where I want to be. The more I’m involved with the company’s operation, the more I realize that our values do not align. So in short, the update on my status is that yes I'm still at the company but no I won't be here for long.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

where are you now?

If you've had your question answered here in the last year, please send me an update and let me know how your situation turned out. I'd like to post your updates in a "where are they now?" post.

We want to know, so email me, stat. Leave no juicy detail out. And woman whose coworker was moonlighting as a hooker, I'm especially talking to you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

employer "appalled" by candidate's questions to HR

A reader writes:

I've been working in a freelance position that is project based for a few months with a medium sized company. They have been working towards hiring me on more permanent part-time basis. The position would include working on an event basis but also office hours, and include similar but not exactly the same work as I am doing now by completing projects for all of the various departments.

My boss said once I had "applied" and references were checked, we could go over any details and negotiate salary. "Applying" was primarily providing references and contact information online - no resume, no cover letter. I received an offer letter with a lower salary than I am willing to take and no details about the position.

This offer was sent from an HR representative, and I sent an e-mail back asking about negotiating salary, receiving a job description, an outline of any benefits, the parking situation, and mentioned I would discuss a schedule with my boss. I tried to write the letter similar to examples I found online, as a proposal and to be further discussed.

The HR representative then forwarded my letter to my boss and one of the directors of the company. I was told by my boss that the director does not want to hire me as they "were appalled that I would email the HR person rather than talk to my boss directly" and I was "too demanding."

They were terribly surprised when I said with all other previous jobs I've been offered, I have been asked to send these requests directly to HR. In fact, on the online form sent to "accept" the job said to email the HR person with any questions. After sending the email to HR (in which I also asked if any of my questions should instead be directed to my boss), I even emailed my boss telling him I had sent an e-mail to HR with these questions.

Is it bad form on the part of the company to get angry and suggest not hiring me over asking to negotiate salary, obtaining a written job description and a more detailed schedule?

They are still willing to offer me the job, but when we sat down to talk about a schedule and job description, I was given general "ideas" of what they thought I would be doing and the hours. Essentially "playing it by ear" once I start.

It's a new position that only one person before me has held (for a month) - so I understand they don't know exactly what will happen. The company and position title would look impressive on my resume, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to live up to expectations that no one seems to agree on or is willing to put in writing. Is this a red flag? How would you turn down a job offer on something like this?

Um, wow. I don't know how badly you need to accept a job right now, but unless you're desperate, I'd probably run in the other direction.

They were "appalled" that you asked perfectly reasonable questions to someone who it was perfectly reasonable to ask them to? Even if there were something unusual about you directing those questions to HR -- which there isn't -- their aggressive attack in response is really weird and inappropriate.

And you're "too demanding"? What are these people going to say when you ask for time off or a raise or a new computer?

These are not good signs.

I'm not as bothered by the fact that the job is still something of a work in progress, but you'd want to make sure you were reasonably aligned on how your success would be judged and what their overall goals for the position will look like. Yes, they're playing it by ear a bit, but they still must know what they'd be happy with at the end of a year and what they wouldn't be. And if they don't know, now is a good time for them to figure it out with you.

I think I would say to these people something like this: "I'm really interested in this job, but there's something that I'm unsure about. I was surprised by the reaction when I emailed my questions to HR. I thought my email was pretty reasonable, and I'm trying to understand why you were appalled and found it inappropriately demanding. I'm a big believer that cultural alignment is important and can predict a lot about a candidate's chances of success once on the job, so I'm hoping you can tell me a bit more about why the company reacted the way it did so we can figure out if I'm the right fit for you or not."

And then really listen to the answer. If you're not comfortable with the response, you should have no qualms about telling them that you're turning down the offer because of that.

does the order of interviews reveal the manager's thinking?

A reader writes:

I have recently had a few interviews and I wonder if the order in which interviewees are meeting with the potential manager might have any meaning to it.

I learned that I’m the first one to interview and that there are more people coming later on in the same day or on a different day. Does it signal anything in terms of preferences, who they want to see and consider first, do people being invited for later have less chance, or perhaps the interviewing team felt they were not happy with the first short-listed group and therefore the second group was called for?

In my experience, you shouldn't read anything into it.

When I'm scheduling interviews, I usually have a set number of candidates who I've decided to advance to interviews. And I have a window of time in which to conduct those interviews. Within that window, there's no meaning to who is scheduled when.

The only meaning I can think of in this regard is that occasionally I'll add a candidate into the interview schedule at the very last minute -- that usually means that the candidate emerged late in the process and is so promising that I'm willing to increase my planned number of interviews in order to include her.

Now, aside from the questions of what the interviewers reveal by the order they schedule people in, some people believe that being the first, middle, or last person interviewed can provide you with advantages or disadvantages. For instance, some people think that being last will keep you the freshest in their minds. Other people think that by going first, you set the bar that other candidates have to top. I suppose if you have an interviewer who is incredibly easily influenced by things like that, there could be something to that -- but in general, with a competent interviewer, it shouldn't matter.

Anyone disagree?

should you take on extra work without extra pay?

A reader writes:

I am an administrative assistant at a 10-person marketing company. My new boss just asked me to take on a project that my coworker used to do. I'd be willing to do it, but I wonder if I should. Is it a bad idea to let him give me more work that isn't part of my job description? I want to stay at this company for a long time but he isn't offering me a raise.

My answer to this reader's question is up over at U.S. News & World Report. Please check it out here and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

negotiating for flex time

A reader writes:

I live in New Jersey and applied for a hard-to-fill job job in Maine. The company is very interested in hiring me for the position even though I have not visited them yet. All our conversations thus far have been by phone, e-mail, and Skype. We have already discussed benefits and salary. There has been a lot of turn over in this position due to the fact that it's hard to adjust to life in rural Maine. I'm open to the idea of moving yet I realize that I will have to travel back to New Jersey every other weekend or so just to maintain property and relationships I have here. I'm thinking that a four day work week would be ideal for me - Monday to Thursday so that I can travel home some weekends and not be too drained. What would be the most timely and palatable way to present this idea to my possible new employer - before I visit them or after I have a firm offer ? Also, do you think they would be opposed to this idea?

Lots here. Taking these one at a time:

1. You should wait until you have an offer before raising this, as it will increase your chances of them saying yes. The idea is that you want to wait for them to want you before you ask them for something. On the other hand, if this is absolutely a requirement for you -- a must-have rather than a would-like-to-have -- then I think the more ethical thing to do is to mention it up-front so that they don't go through the time and expense of bringing you in if that's a deal-breaker for them.

2. However, if they're getting a lot of turnover because people can't adjust to living there, telling them that you plan to spend three days a week in New Jersey might not go over so well. It's like saying that you basically don't plan to ever adjust to living there, which doesn't bode well for your longevity in the position. If I were them, I'd want you to either commit or not, but not do it halfway.

3. As for the idea of a four-day work week itself, some jobs lend themselves to that and others don't. And just as importantly, some companies are open to it and others aren't, no matter what you say. (There are also generally larger considerations at play, such as the fact that it might be fine for a couple of people to do it but not if it becomes widespread, and so therefore they have to say no to everyone.) But you won't find out until you ask.

4. And last, just a side note: You haven't even met these people in person yet. It might not be safe to assume that they're "very interested" in hiring you. It's not uncommon to discuss salary and benefits at this stage, so don't read to much into that. And you probably shouldn't be sure that you want to work for them yet either; all kinds of important things come out when you meet in person that you should stay alert for.

Good luck!

receiving conflicting instructions from boss and boss's boss

A reader writes:

I'm a sales rep and we need to make x number of presentations a day. My boss has a looser definition of what a presentation is than his boss does. My boss has given me different direction than his boss has given our department. My boss' direction leaves the integrity of his direction in question. What should I do? Follow the direction of my direct boss or his boss?

This is the kind of question that frustrates me, because I'm baffled about why you don't just ask them about it. It's not just you; lots of people are unsure about how to handle this kind of thing, and I wish people wouldn't agonize over it so much. So often, when you're stumped about how to handle a work situation, the situation is to just be straightforward.

Just say to your boss: "Jane was pretty clear that she wanted us to do ___ instead. I'm hearing different directions from each of you and I'm not sure how to proceed. Could one of us talk to her so that we can all get aligned?"

If he insists his way is correct and you can ignore his boss, say, "I'm a little uneasy ignoring direct instructions from Jane. If you're sure I should, I'd at least like to send her a quick email and explain that we talked about this, so that she doesn't think I'm just ignoring her."

Now, if you have a boss who doesn't handle this conversation well, then your problem isn't conflicting instructions; it's having an inept boss. But barring that, straightforward is the way to go.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

a tale of two interview mistakes

In phone interviews, I always ask the candidate to tell me what he or she knows about the job so far. It's surprising how many people reveal in response that they either have a complete misunderstanding of what the job entails, maybe because they haven't bothered to read the job description since applying two weeks ago. (Keep in mind that these are all scheduled phone interviews; they had time to prepare in advance and aren't being caught off guard by the call.)

Obviously, this is a huge strike. It's close to impossible to recover from, because why am I spending my time interviewing you for a job that you obviously aren't prepared to talk about, when there are hundreds of candidates who would be prepared?

I had this happen twice today (probably because I'm hiring for an entry-level job, and that's where you find the highest proportion of silly interview mistakes). But the two candidates couldn't have handled it more differently. The first candidate described a job I bet he'd like to have, but it's not the one I'm interviewing for. He was so ridiculously off that I asked him when he had last read the job description. His response? "I'm so tired right now that I can't remember what it said." No, seriously. With no inkling that there was anything wrong with saying that.

The second candidate also got it wrong, but when I explained to her that actually the job wasn't doing Y, but rather Z, she was mortified. She apologized profusely, and said was horrified, and when we were ending the call a little later, she apologized again. There's no doubt in my mind that she understood exactly how she'd messed up and that she cared, a lot.

The first guy is getting an instant rejection. The second candidate -- well, I might come back to her. She's not in the top tier because she didn't prepare, and there are tons of candidates who did. But she handled it well enough that if none of my other candidates wow me, I'd be willing to talk to her again. If nothing else, she's certainly someone I'd be willing to consider if she applied again in the future.

So how you handle mistakes matters. And recovery is possible.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

a great question to ask your interviewer

On a phone interview today, when I asked the candidate what questions she had for me, she asked me this:

Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

This is the sort of question that melts an interviewer's heart. I'm still mentally beaming at her. Add it to your list!

Monday, December 7, 2009

dealing with possible racial discrimination when interviewing

A reader writes:

I have a general question regarding minorities and employers. I am an African-American female, who like many Americans is out of work and looking, which means continuously applying for jobs. I can say with full confidence that I fit the requirements, but when it comes to filling out voluntary EEOC questions that ask one's race and sex, I hesitate.

I understand that the question is optional, but I have talked to other minorities who were greeted with mild shock when hiring managers meet them. I have been on a few interviews where I didn’t get the job, and although I can never prove it, I felt that race may have been a factor. ( Example: I had 2 previous phone interviews, the position sounded promising and when they met me in person, I could sense their shock and mild disappointment.) The majority of these positions were/are at executive levels.

This is somewhat frustrating, and I sometimes feel like I should somehow inform all employers beforehand. As much as I would like to believe that racial bias wasn’t involved, I am also aware that America has more growing to do in that area. As a female, I’m sure you might be able to relate to this type of discrimination. I am familiar with EEOC guidelines, but since there is no way to prove that a job wasn’t earned because of race, there is no way to make a case.

I guess my general question is: Is it better to let the employer know that you are a minority beforehand to save time for the both of us, or is it better to ignore the question, hope for an interview and then prove why you are a minority that would fit in? If you could give me some insight, it would mean everything.

Hmmm. If we were going to look at this strictly logically, if you think that you're encountering hiring managers who are discriminating against you because of race, and you just want to avoid them altogether, then I suppose you could argue that you should fill out the EEOC questions in the hope of screening out companies like that.

But that doesn't feel very good. It might be a practical answer in the very short-term, but it's not an effective one in a larger sense, because it allows those people to go on comfortably practicing something odious.

But yet I don't know what a good answer is. I want to say that you should write those people off as someone you don't want to work for/with anyway, just like you'd write off people who were jerks in other ways ... but this is different, because it isn't really just jerkiness; it's something more sinister and damaging. And I don't want to make it easy on them.

What do others think a good answer is here?

(And also, here's a plea for people reading this to take the opportunity to be extra aware of this kind of thing and do what we can to counteract it if we suspect it's at work in our colleagues or ourselves.)

how to find a mentor

Having a mentor, especially at the early stages of your career, can be invaluable. You get someone who can advise you on career decisions, help you navigate tricky situations, and even just suggest ways to succeed at the more mundane aspects of office life.

There's a lot of advice out there that tells you to approach someone and ask them to set up a formal mentoring relationship with you. While I don't doubt that plenty of people have had success with this approach, I don't think you need to set up something so formal. Instead, some of the best mentoring relationships can develop naturally without ever being officially labeled.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how to do that. Please check it out and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

recent grad in despair over job market

A reader writes:

I'm a recent college graduate. I apply to countless job postings per day. Most of these are through online job boards (monster and craigslist). In recent months I have gotten crafty and researched (via google and linked in) those in the department I would like to work for and emailed them directly in tandem with applying online through the proper HR channels.

I have networked my life away for the past year, only to get a small response. I even tried to join a networking group in Philadelphia, only to have emails unanswered and I seem to have been removed from the email blast list (now THAT'S depressing). When it comes to networking I thought being outgoing and professional was key. I arrived on-time, dressed professionally (J Crew always) and even had business cards with my info and qualifications printed on them. I was always quick to respond (within 48 hours) and courteous in exchanges. I even attended a SHRM event and actually met some really inspiring, seasoned professionals.

I have gone up and down the street in 90 degree heat wearing a suit and handed out resumes to anyone and any business that would take them.

I have gone to jobs fairs with a stack of resumes and tried my best to coax people into giving me a business card. Followed up with them and out of all the times ONLY ONE has ever responded. She was quite helpful but it was for a position with the IRS that I was not qualified for.

All the while, I worked retail just to bring in some money and gain experience.

I completed several internships during college so the thought of working for free again is cringe-inducing.

I also created my own fashion blog. I have learned content editing, some html, and lot about journalism. I often do boutique write ups, comment on current events in media, design and fashion, and I also now write for the local paper.

I have had to relocated back home with parents (the ultimate nail in the coffin) and am unable to find employment here.

I am a courageous, intelligent and resourceful person who feels completely lost and like I have exhausted many avenues. I am capable, articulate and assertive. I do not fear interviews because who better to market myself than me. Sooooooo .. Please please please tell me what I am doing wrong? I network, I apply day in and day out and I have exhausted family connections. I have even started a blog to hone my skills and utilize my time off wisely. I am willing to work but no one seems to want to hire college students. Every job says I need 3-5 years of experience. How will I ever get experience if no one gives me a chance?

I'm sorry. This sucks.

You're doing everything right -- seriously, your list is ridiculously impressive. I don't think it's you. (I looked at your resume too, so I'm even more sure that it's not you.) It's the job market; it's abysmal. There are more great candidates than there are jobs right now, so it's just simple math. You are being screwed by math.

And recent grads are being especially hard hit, because you're competing with people who have more experience than you do. You're in an incredibly hard situation.

The good news: It's not going to stay like this forever. The job market will recover. You will get a job. But not in anything approaching a normal time frame. You just need to hunker down and know that this will pass.

Something I'd suggest meanwhile: Volunteer. Volunteer anywhere and everywhere that interests you and has a use for your skills. This has the potential to open a lot of doors; not only will you meet people and expand your network, but you'll become a known quantity to them, which counts for a lot. And if it doesn't lead to a job, you're adding to your resume, which will help you with paid employers. (Plus, you'll be doing something good.)

Hang in there. You're not alone, not by a long shot. Focus on positioning yourself to be an even stronger candidate when the job market picks up, and something will come together for you.

Related: Sometimes it's not about you.

does employer realize I declined their offer last year?

A reader writes:

I recently applied, interviewed for and accepted a job at a company that I interviewed with 20 months ago.

20 months ago, I was offered the job but had to decline (I couldn't wrap up my job at the time and move cities quickly enough for them).

In my cover letter and during the interview process this time, I did not disclose that I had previously interviewed, nor did they indicate that they recognized me.

I am not the same candidate I was 20 months ago (better experience, fully established in the city the job is located in, etc...), and the job has changed somewhat (same people but different reporting structure). I don't feel that I've done anything unethical, but am concerned how about how it might be perceived.

I have resigned my current job and am very excited about the new one which starts soon, but am a bit anxious about the omission, despite being fine with it during the process.

Two questions:

1) Would you as a manager fire me or rescind the (signed) offer if I disclosed this now?

2) Any advice on how to bring this up with my new manager?

How strange.

I would simply proceed on the assumption that they know you applied previously, and not give it too much more thought. If in two months they suddenly look shocked and say, "Hey, didn't we offer you this a job a year ago," then just say, "Yes -- I thought we all knew I was reapplying after the first offer didn't work out." I can't see any reason why someone would fire you over this, assuming there was no deliberate deception (which there wasn't).

Because really, if they didn't know -- and it's the same people -- that's really weird. They should know. You should be able to safely assume they know. It's odd that it didn't come up in the interview at all (even just a "hey, nice to see you again" from either of you), but I wouldn't stress out too much about it.

People re-apply for jobs all the time. Your situation is only different in that you got an offer last time. Your reason for declining then made sense. There isn't anything to hide here.

Really, this isn't a big deal. Just go about your job.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

accepting a home loan from your boss -- oh, and lying to him about it too

A reader writes:

I initially discussed with my boss, who is also the sole owner of the company, the possibility of him giving me a home loan. The home loan was for me and my future spouse to buy a property to settle down. The amount is approximately 10% of the property price.

However, I have decided to purchase a property for investment of the same amount and defer my plan to buy a property for personal use.

Should I tell him the truth that I am using it for investment purpose? If yes, how do I convince him to lend me the down payment that I am going to use for my property investment?

I am speechless, so bear with me here.


This is a terrible, terrible plan.

First of all, your boss should not be loaning you money. It's fraught with potential for huge problems -- more on your boss' side than yours, in fact. For instance, if you're performing poorly down the road, will he be less inclined to fire you because he's tied to you in this way, and he'll lower his chances of getting paid back if you're unemployed? Or, aside from that, will other employees think that's happening? What happens if you're late on payments or default altogether? Do you really think that won't affect your relationship at work?

But that's not even your question. Your question is whether you should lie to him to get the loan.


Have you thought about what will happen if your boss discovers this lie? (Which he very easily could. He sees your address on your payroll tax forms, for god's sake.) And more to the point, how could you feel good about lying to the person who is very generously offering to make you a large loan?

And you also want to know how to convince him to loan you the money for a different use. I have no idea. I wouldn't recommend trying.

I recommend a bank, not your boss.

Seriously, back away from this whole arrangement. It is a terrible, terrible idea.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

it's your office holiday party!

I get a lot of mail full of angst about company holiday parties -- do you have to go, can you make your employees go, why can't they give you a day off instead, and so forth.

Apparently there are an awful lot of you who cannot stand your coworkers enough to spend an hour standing around with them eating frosted cookies and cheese balls. And there are a lot of managers who seem to be totally oblivious to that fact.

As a holiday gift to us all, here are some official rules of office holiday parties.

Holiday Party Rules for Employees Who Don't Want to Go

1. If you want to skip it, skip it. Say you have a conflicting engagement and stop agonizing over it. It's not like people don't have myriad family and social obligations at this of the year that you can use an excuse.

2. But be aware that in some offices, these things are borderline mandatory. If that's the case with yours, suck it up and make an appearance. Look at it as any other work obligation. But come late, leave early, and pass the time by talking to your coworkers' dates, who will probably be grateful.

3. Read my past tips for surviving the office holiday party, where you find advice like "drink things in small glasses so you have a constant excuse to leave awkward conversations."

4. Possibly start looking for a job with coworkers you like, who you want to eat frosted cookies with.

Holiday Party Rules for Managers

1. If you think the party is a treat for employees, make sure they see it that way too. If you have staffers who just don't enjoy these functions, requiring their presence under the guise of giving them a treat isn't going to build morale; it's going to hurt it.

2. Don't expect people to read your mind. If there are work repercussions to not attending, be honest and tell people they're expected to attend. But if it's truly supposed to be for their enjoyment, accept that some people won't show up because they don't enjoy such events (or would rather spend their off hours doing something else), and be okay with that. Don't penalize people for not going, even just in your head.

3. If you are going to expect/require attendance, you really, really should try to hold it during work hours.


What have I missed?